Apostrophe (mark)

Punctuation marks

apostrophe ( ' ) ( )
brackets ( ( ) ) ( [ ] ) ( { } ) ( Template:Unicode )
colon ( : )
comma ( , )
dashes ( Template:Unicode ) ( ) ( ) ( )
ellipsis ( ) ( ... )
exclamation mark ( ! )
full stop/period ( . )
hyphen ( - ) ( Template:Unicode )
interrobang ( Template:Unicode )
question mark ( ? )
quotation marks ( ‘ ’ ) ( “ ” )
semicolon ( ; )
slash/solidus ( / )
space (   ) and interpunct ( )

Other typographer's marks

ampersand ( & )
asterisk ( * ) and asterism ( Template:Unicode )
at ( @ )
backslash ( \ )
bullet ( , more )
dagger ( † ‡ )
degrees ( ° )
number sign ( # )
prime ( )
tilde ( ~ )
underscore ( _ )
vertical bar/pipe ( | )

An apostrophe ( ) is a punctuation and sometimes diacritic mark in languages written in the Latin alphabet. In English, it marks omissions, forms the possessive, and, in special cases, assists in forming plurals.


English language usage

  • An apostrophe is commonly used to indicate omitted characters as in:
    • abbreviations, as gov't for government, or '70s for 1970s.
    • contractions, such as can't from cannot and it's from it is or it has.
  • An apostrophe is used with an added s to indicate possession, as in Oliver's army, Elizabeth's crown. This derives from the Old English genitive case, indicating possession, which often ended in the letters "-es". The omitted "e" was indicated by the apostrophe.
  • An apostrophe is used by some writers to form a plural for abbreviations and symbols where adding just s rather than ’s would be ambiguous, such as mind your p's and q's. It is not necessary where there is no ambiguity, so CDs not CD's, videos not video's, 1960s not 1960's, 90s or '90s not '90's. (Note that while British English did formerly endorse the use of such apostrophes after numbers and dates, this usage has now largely been superseded.)

Things to note

  • The apostrophe in it's marks a contraction of it is or it has. The possessive its has no apostrophe. Many find this confusing. It might help to remember that there is no apostrophe in any of his, hers, its, whose (see below), ours, yours, or theirs. Other pronouns do take a possessive apostrophe: one's, everybody's (along with everyone's, anybody's, and similar), somebody else's, etc.
  • Who's means who is or who has. The possessive of who is whose. "The person whose responsibility it is is the member who's oldest."
  • You're means you are. This is different from the possessive your. "Your nuts" implies the nuts belong to you. "You're nuts" would mean "You are nuts". Similarly, "You're going" means "You are going". "Your going" refers to the act of going, similar to "his going". "You're going to Mexico. Your going will be helpful to the company."
  • Likewise, its role in pluralization of symbols has led to a modern tendency to use the apostrophe incorrectly to form plurals of words, that is plural's of word's, such as the movie title Dating Do's and Don'ts in which the first apostrophe is widely regarded as erroneous.
  • When the noun is plural and already ends in s, no extra s is added in the possessive, so pens' lids (where there is more than one pen) rather than pens's lids. If the plural noun doesn't end in s, then add s as usual: children's hats.
  • If a name already ends with an s, the extra s is sometimes dropped: Jesus' parables. This is more common in U.S. usage and with classical names (Eros' statue, Herodotus' book). Additionally, many contemporary names that end with -es (a -z sound) will see the extra s dropped by some writers: Charles' car, though most style guides advocate Charles's car.

This last principle may extend to words ending in -x, -z, -ss, or even -ce, though this is far from being universal. Note that some people would say Asterix' sons, others would say Asterix's sons. The formation of possessives in speech is one thing, and how possessives are represented in writing is another; but spoken practice sometimes helps in determining what it is proper to write.

It's worth bearing in mind that place names usually take no apostrophe, except in a few special circumstances. This is in fact an emerging standard, and there is a decreasing number of exceptions. Only four place names in the US are officially spelt with an apostrophe (a famous example being Martha's Vineyard). Edinburgh in Scotland has a Princes Street. Prince's would ordinarily take an apostrophe, but in a place name it does not. Most place names are like that. On the other hand, London has a St. James's Park, whereas Newcastle United play at St. James' Park. The special circumstances here may be these: the customary pronunciation of this place name is reflected in the addition of an extra -s. Since usage is firmly against a doubling of the final -s without an apostrophe, this place name has an apostrophe.


To check you've got it right, swap the sentence around so that the part before the apostrophe becomes the last word. If the sense hasn't changed, you've got it right.

  • Pens’ lids becomes lids of the pens.
  • Boy's hats becomes hats of the boy.
  • Boys' hats becomes hats of the boys.
  • Children's hats becomes hats of the children.
  • Two weeks' notice becomes notice of two weeks.
  • One week's notice becomes notice of one week.
  • But childrens' hats becomes hats of the childrens, so it must be wrong.

Greengrocers' apostrophes

Apostrophes used incorrectly to form plurals are known as Greengrocers' apostrophes (or sometimes, humorously, as Greengrocers apostrophe's), due to their frequent occurrence on greengrocers' hand-written signs, offering potatoe's, cabbage's, etc.


The use of the apostrophe to note possession in the English language derived from the genitive case, but is now considered a clitic.

Other languages

  • In many European languages, the apostrophe is used to indicate omitted characters, often in a contraction. For example, in the Portuguese language it is used when de (of) can elide with the following word, like galinha d'angola (literally, Angola's chicken) or some poetical constructions, like minh'alma, contraction of "minha alma" (my soul).
  • In the Dutch language, it is used for some plurals, e.g. foto's, taxi's, and for the genitive of some proper names, e.g. Anna's, Otto's.
  • In the Slovak and Czech languages, common typographic rendering (at least for some typefaces) of caron over lowercase t, d, l, and uppercase L consonants (ď, ť, ľ, Ľ) looks a lot like an apostrophe, but it is very incorrect to use apostrophe instead (compare previous example with incorrect d', t', l', L'). In Slovak, there is also l with acute accent (ĺ, Ĺ). In Slovak, it is used to indicate elision in certain words ("tys'" as an abbreviated form of "ty si"), however, these elisions are restricted to poetry.
  • In the Belarusian and Ukrainian languages, the apostrophe is used between a consonant and the following "soft" (iotified) vowel (е, ё, є, ю, я) to indicate that no palatalization of the preceding consonant takes place, and the vowel is pronounced in the same way as at the beginning of the word. The same function is served by the hard sign in some other Cyrillic alphabets.
  • In some transliterations from the Cyrillic alphabet (of Belarusian, Russian, or Ukrainian language), It is used to indicate palatalization of the preceding consonant, as in Kievan Rus'.
  • Some Karelian orthographies use an apostrophe to indicate palatalization, e.g. n'evvuo "to give advice", d'uuri "just (like)", el'vtti "to revive".
  • In some languages it represents the glottal stop (as in Hawai'i, see ‘okina) or similar sounds in the Turkic language and in romanizations of Arabic languages. Sometimes this function is performed by the opening single quotation mark.
  • In Finnish, one of the consonant gradation patterns is the change of a 'k' into a hiatus, e.g. keko → keon "a pile → pile's". This hiatus has to be indicated in spelling with an apostrophe, if a long vowel or a diphthong would be immediately followed by the final vowel, e.g. ruoko → ruo'on, vaaka → vaa'an. (This is in contrast to compound words, where the same problem is solved with a hyphen, e.g. maa-ala "land area".) The same meaning for an apostrophe, a hiatus, is used in poetry to indicate contractions, e.g. miss' on for miss on "where is".

Alternative uses

Computers and Unicode

There are three types of apostrophe character in Unicode:

  • ' ) Vertical typewriter apostrophe (Unicode name "apostrophe" or "apostrophe-quote"), Unicode and ASCII character 39, or hexadecimal U+0027.
  •  ) Punctuation apostrophe ("right single quotation mark" or "single comma quotation mark"), U+2019.
  • ʼ ) Letter apostrophe ("modifier letter apostrophe"), U+02BC.

In most cases, the preferred apostrophe character is the punctuation apostrophe (distinguished as typographic, or curly apostrophe). But historically, only the vertical typewriter apostrophe has been present on computer keyboards and in 7-bit ASCII character encoding. The typographic apostrophe is in different positions of the many 8-bit encodings, and entering it from a keyboard requires memorizing obscure combinations or escape sequences.

So in practice, the typewriter apostrophe is much more commonly used by writers and editors. For the same historic reasons, the typewriter apostrophe is a highly overloaded character position. In ASCII, it represents a right single quotation mark, left single quotation mark, apostrophe punctuation, vertical line, or prime (punctuation marks) or an apostrophe modifier or acute accent (modifier letters).

In some cases an apostrophe is not considered punctuation which separates letters, but as a letter in its own right; a letter apostrophe. Examples are in some national languages where the apostrophe is considered a letter (e.g, the Cyrillic Azerbaijani alphabet), or in some transliterations (e.g., transliterated Arabic glottal stop, hamza, or transliterated Cyrillic soft sign). As the letter apostrophe is seldom used in practice, the Unicode standard cautions that one should never assume text is coded thus.

The Nenets language has single and double letter apostrophes:

  • ( ˮ ) Double letter apostrophe (Unicode name "modifier letter double apostrophe"), U+02EE.

Entering apostrophes

During text entry, it is common for computer software to automatically convert to the appropriate apostrophe or quotation mark characters; the so-called "smart quotes" feature. Such conversion can be provided by word processing software as-you-type, or on web servers after submitting text in a form field, e.g., on weblogs or free encyclopedias. Many such software programs incorrectly enter an opening quotation mark for a leading apostrophe (e.g., in abbreviations of years: ’04 for 2004), or an apostrophe for a prime (e.g., latitude 49 53′ 08″).

A useful quick solution to get such cases right in Microsoft Word is to type two apostrophes, and then simply delete the first.

On Microsoft Windows, Unicode special characters can be entered explicitly by holding the ALT key and typing the four-digit decimal code position of the character. An apostrophe is entered by holding alt while typing 8217. (Typing a three-digit code will enter a character value in the current code page, which may not correspond to its Unicode value.)

On the Apple Macintosh, special characters are typed while holding down the option key, or option and shift keys together. In Macintosh English-language keyboard layouts, an apostrophe is typed with the shortcut option-shift-]

In publishing, typewriter apostrophes are always converted to typographic apostrophes. To a graphic designer's or typographer's eye, the appearance of the former in print is a glaring sign of unprofessionalism. Because of the egalitarian nature of electronic publishing, and the low resolution of computer monitors in comparison to print, typewriter apostrophes have been considered much more tolerable on the web. However, due to the wide adoption of the Unicode text encoding standard, near-universal web browser support, higher-resolution displays, and advanced anti-aliasing of text in modern operating systems, the use of typographic apostrophes is becoming common on web sites by discerning designers. Unfortunately, such use is not always done in accordance with the standards for character sets and encodings, as mentioned more fully below.

Eight-bit encodings

Older 8-bit character encodings, such as ISO-8859-1, Windows CP1252, or MacRoman, universally support the typewriter apostrophe in the same position, 39, inherited from ASCII (as does Unicode). But most of them place the typographic apostrophe in different positions. ISO-8859-1, the most common encoding used for web pages, omits the typographic apostrophe altogether.

Microsoft Windows CP1252 (sometimes incorrectly called ANSI or ISO-Latin) is a duplicate of ISO-8859-1, with 27 additional characters in the place of control characters (in the range from 128 to 159). Microsoft software usually treats ISO-8859-1 as if it were CP1252. The wide adoption of Microsoft's web browser and web server has forced many other software makers to adopt this as a de facto conventionin some cases contravening established standards unnecessarily (e.g., some applications use CP1252 character values in HTML numeric references, where Unicode values are required, and would be sufficient for interoperation with MS software). Consequently, the typographic apostrophe and several other characters are handled inconsistently by web browsers and other software, and can cause interoperation problems.


External links

eo:Apostrofo es:Apstrofo fr:Apostrophe (typographie) it:Apostrofo ja:アポストロフィー ru:Апостроф


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